Recently Asperger’s has become a bit trendy in books, TV and films, and I’m seeing a lot of the same ideas about behaviours and traits rolled out, and more stereotypes than you can shake a stick at squeezed and squoshed inside the poor characters, and the individuality and very humanness of aspies insulted and belittled.
In the last few days and weeks, I’ve had a run of simply being a human being and not having to think too deeply about my brain-wiring, so I’m not really in the mood for confronting the “no empathy”, “painfully honest” shit that’s been badly wallpapered onto everyone with Asperger’s – like we’re a bunch of weird, abnormal clones and everyone else is somehow so much more tactful and thoughtful.
It is nasty, unfair and untrue, and it breaks my heart every time I’m exposed to said shit. Everyone else is not much more tactful and thoughtful and going around being all nice all the time. We are not two separate species: one with empathy and one without. It simply is not like that.
I think about other people ALL THE TIME. I think about how my actions impact on others ALL THE TIME. I care deeply about people and watch them carefully and read them intently to gauge their feelings. Just like every other fucker on the planet I can let tactless things slip out occasionally – and when I do that I feel bad.
Yes, it’s true I don’t see the point in lying when the truth is important. But, no, it’s not true I speak my mind all the time and unnecessarily offend people regularly. Yes, it’s true I can have trouble deciphering what people need from me when I feel their behaviour is coded. But this is cognitive empathy and not the same as emotional empathy and it does not mean I am unable to guess, to judge or to imagine how other people are feeling or to feel very deeply for what they are going through. Nor does it mean I am unable to show sympathy, empathy, support or help work on solutions for other people. I understand that everyone is different and thinks differently and responds differently to situations; that people learn differently and need different approaches to things they are tackling, struggling with or dealing with, and I understand that might very well be different from things that might work for me.
Speaking for myself, the greatest problem I have is the strange codes and behaviours that exist in the neurotypical (non-Aspie) world, whereby people don’t say what they mean and don’t ask for what they want: they say things they don’t mean, they agree to do things they don’t want to do, they leave things out, and they approach things from an angle that is unfamiliar to me. Importantly, I find neurotypical timing to be slightly different from my own and I believe this is due to some challenges in processing more than one thing at a time. This timing leads me to be off cue, slightly disordered or slow in the behaviour others may be expecting, and people who have spent their whole lives shepherded by neurotypical behaviours (even other aspies) don’t see what they are expecting so make a immediate judgement that there is something lacking.
Neurotypical people, it would seem, on the whole are more likely to pretend. They are more likely to be two-faced. They are incredibly likely to read an autistic person wrongly and make an unfair or incorrect judgement. They are not better at empathy.
But this post isn’t about widening the gap that’s been created to an extent by common misperceptions, it’s about trying to narrow it so what I want to say is this:
When you find yourself believing someone has no empathy, ask yourself how deeply your own empathy is running to have reached that conclusion.